Harris Sisters Month (April)

Harris Sisters Month

A portrait of Sarah Harris Fayerweather in her older age. She is wearing a high collared dress and her hair is styled in a fancy updo. The photo is in sepia tone, making the image in shades of brown/tan.
Sarah Harris Fayerweather. Image Courtesy of the Prudence Crandall Museum, Canterbury, CT.

April Celebrates Sarah and Mary Harris

Harris Sisters Month celebrates the groundbreaking achievements of Norwich natives Sarah and Mary Harris, who were among the first Black students at Prudence Crandall’s Canterbury school.

Otis Library honors their legacy every April by hosting lectures, performances, and visual art. Through these efforts, we aim to keep their legacies alive and relevant in Norwich.

All programs are free, and for sign language interpretation or other disability-related requests, please contact Elanah Sherman
at 860-614-7200 or elanahs@gmail.com at least one week before each event.

2024 Events

All programs are sponsored by The Elsie Brown Fund.

On Display in the Community Room, April 1 – 30, 2024
Exhibit: Ed Johnetta Miller
In honor of Harris Sisters Month, Otis Library will host a display by noted quilt/fiber artist Ed Johnetta Miller. Widely exhibited in the US and internationally, her quilts are found in numerous important museums and private collections such as the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Museum of Art (Washington DC), The Contemporary Quilt Museum (Golden, Colorado), The Wadsworth Museum of Art (Hartford, CT), Nelson Mandela’s National Museum (Cape Town, South Africa), Safeco Corporation, Johnson & Johnson Corporation, Hartford Hospital, Michigan State University, Yale-New Haven Children’s Hospital, and US Embassy (Cotonou, Benin West Africa). In 2019, she was commissioned by the West Hartford Art League to design five quilts for a mural project on the grounds of the Art League. NOTE: Please join us for a reception in the Community Room on Saturday, April 20, following the Puppet Show with Dan Butterworth at 11am.

A Tale of Two Digs: Recent Archaeology at the Prudence Crandall Museum
Wednesday, April 3, 7pm, Atrium
While the museum was undergoing restoration (2020-2022), two archaeology teams led digs at different locations on the site grounds. Join Sarah Sportman, Connecticut State Archaeologist, to discover the artifacts unearthed, and what these items can tell us about 18th and 19th-century life in Canterbury, CT. Free after-hours event; no registration required. NOTE: The archaeology exhibit installed in the atrium by the Prudence Crandall Museum for Harris Sisters Month will be available for free viewing through the month of April.

Note Card Workshop with Ed Johnetta Miller (for grades 2-5)
Saturday, April 6, 10am, Community Room
Award-winning fiber artist Ed Johnetta Miller will lead children in an art project honoring the history of the Harris Sisters. Using ethnic and vintage paper, participants will design note cards using images of young Black women and their teachers associated with Prudence Crandall’s school. Free program; registration required. Registration begins March 18.  CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Author Donald E. Williams, Jr.: Prudence Crandall’s Legacy
Thursday, April 18, 6pm, Live on Zoom
Learn about the extraordinary role of Sarah Harris, her family and friends in the creation of Prudence Crandall’s school for Black women. Numerous Black abolitionist leaders, including the Harris family, from Connecticut and beyond, played key roles in persuading Crandall to embark on a historic journey that had many risks and obstacles. The discussion will focus on little-known and often neglected facts and events that had a dramatic effect on Crandall’s school and the quest for equality in education. Register to receive the Zoom link; registration begins March 18.  CLICK HERE TO REGISTER

Donald E. Williams, Jr. is the author of Prudence Crandall’s Legacy: The Fight for Equality in the 1830’s, Dred Scott, and Brown v. Board of Education, published by Wesleyan University (2014). An accomplished policymaker and education advocate with a distinguished career in public service, law, and journalism, Mr. Williams is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Education Association. Before joining CEA, he practiced law and served as the President of the Connecticut State Senate, spearheading a variety of initiatives in the areas of education, economic development, campaign finance reform, public safety, child welfare, open space and historic preservation, and environmental protection. Mr. Williams earned his J.D. from Washington and Lee University School of Law and graduated from Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Communications.

Puppet Show with Dan Butterworth (for ages 8 and up)
Saturday, April 20, 11am , Community Room
Watch the inspiring story of the Harris Sisters and Prudence Crandall’s school come to life with custom puppets by award-winning puppeteer Dan Butterworth. He will be joined by local students and volunteers in telling the story of this important piece of history. Butterworth Productions has performed locally at fairs and schools, as well as internationally, leading large-scale educational workshops and appearing in operas, classical music festivals, film, and television. Free program; no registration required. Note: This program will be followed by a reception. Join us! Make sure to pick up the first copy of the new Otis Library Teen Journal, written by local tweens and teens! The first edition is dedicated to Harris Sisters Month, with art pieces focusing on the challenges endured by the Harris Sisters.

Walk Norwich: The Freedom Trail
Thursday, April 25, 12pm – 1:30pm
This special tour will be co-led by the Norwich Historical Society and the Norwich Branch NAACP. Please join us as we explore a largely untold piece of Norwich history in the Jail Hill Historic District. This walk is 1.5 hours, 1.5 miles, is strenuous, and has some very steep hills. It will begin at City Hall, David Ruggles Courtyard, 100 Broadway in Norwich. Free parking is available at City Hall Garage. No registration necessary.

Videos of Past Events

View recordings of previous lectures, poetry readings, and more on our YouTube page. 


Harris Sisters Month recognizes the courage and achievements of Norwich natives Sarah and Mary Harris. The sisters were among the first Black students at Prudence Crandall’s Canterbury school; indeed, the root of this experiment in integration was Sarah’s request in 1832, which Prudence granted, to take classes at the then all-white academy.

The consequences – the withdrawal of the white students; Prudence’s establishment of an all-Black female academy in 1833; the violence and harassment that led to the closing of the school the following year; the 1833 passage of Connecticut’s ‘Black Law’ (repealed in 1838), which prohibited out-of-state Black students from attending school in Connecticut without local permission – constitute one of the most significant chapters in American abolitionist history.

Following the closing of the school, Sarah and Mary continued to lead distinguished lives marked by audacity and purpose, Sarah as an abolitionist in New London and Rhode Island, and Mary as an educator in Louisiana. To honor their accomplishments, Otis Library will, every year in April – the month of both Sarah Harris’s birth and the formal opening of the Black academy – present new understandings of their lives, as well as explorations of the broader themes of social liberation, youth leadership, and the role of education in promoting democracy. Through scholarship, performance, and visual art, we hope the legacies of Sarah and Mary Harris will continue to pulse with life, meaning and continued relevance here in the heart of Norwich.

All programs are free. For sign language interpretation, please submit your request at least one week prior to each event. Please contact Elanah Sherman about this or any other disability-related request at 860-614-7200 or by e-mail at elanahs@gmail.com.

Elanah Sherman, Project Organizer


"Harris Sisters Month is crucial in learning the history of Connecticut. In a country where Black stories are pushed to the side and disregarded, this month of celebration at Otis Library stumps this common tactic and instead shines a light on our essential Black histories. It demonstrates the struggle the Harris sisters went through and how they could persevere. When I was gifted the opportunity to contribute to this month of meaning, I showcased a photography exhibit demonstrating the hard work of Norwich youth. The show consisted of portraits of hardworking high school students with corresponding “in-action” photos of how they actively serve their community. This contribution was significant in my accomplishments as a photographer. I was allowed the opportunity to artistically demonstrate my interpretation of the Harris sisters’ history, and in turn, I had a rich learning experience in more ways than one."

Poem in Honor of the Sisters

The Ashes Were Part Of The Plan

A Poem by Frederick-Douglass Knowles II for Sarah Harris, Mary Harris, & Prudence Crandall

Not even a classroom ignited
into ember could make me quit.
Ambition burning like the gallant

walls of Prudence Crandall. My
soul sang a prelude to the Blues
etched between the integrated

lines of notebook announcing
my name as the first African
-descent pupil to approach

Prudence with a spirit letter
from the Principal of Psalms,
Teach me like you teach them.

A spirit letter for my sister,
Teach her, like you teach them.
A spirit letter for diasporic

woman across the continent,
Teach us like you teach them.
Connecticut Black Laws barring

colored-out-of-state students
couldn’t unloop the cursive written
by the hand of the Lord, himself.

Not even the stout of flame
scathing the Canterbury landscape
could char such sacred parchment.

Our flame inked a simple sentence.
Study the lexicon of love. Stir the
coals of your internal incandescence

like smoldering spikes assembling
a Railroad traveling Underground
beneath Rose City where thorns

safeguard flowers blossoming
on top of the ruins of racism.
The ashes were part of the plan.

Daughters of Sankofa reach back
to retrieve your heritage; reach back
like the neck of a Heron folding back

to place the egg of ancestry on its back;
looking back to douse the souls of white
folk frightened that our purpose would

spread like wings of a Heron;
flaming like the feathers of a phoenix
rising like the renovated walls of

Prudence Crandall School
For Colored Girls Who Considered
Liberation When Freedom Wasn’t Enuf.

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